WASHINGTON, DC, US — The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has cited ADM for two willful, one serious and one other-than-serious health and safety violations and proposed $324,796 in penalties related to an April 20 dust explosion that injured three workers at the company’s West Plant in Decatur, Illinois, US.

OSHA said a lack of preventive maintenance on the explosion suppression system of a bucket elevator was a major factor in the explosion that resulted in the hospitalization of three employees with burns and other injuries and extensive damage to the grain elevator, federal investigators found. 

Investigators responding to the combustible corn germ dust explosion determined that the explosion suppression system on the indoor bucket elevator leg was not functional and in a state of disrepair. Investigators found the Decatur grain processing facility had not conducted inspections and testing of the explosion suppression systems since late 2016. 

“ADM knows the important role maintenance and testing plays in protecting the lives and health of their workers and their property from two previous explosions and yet failed to follow common industry practices and Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards to maintain these protective systems,” said Edward Marshall, area director for OSHA in Peoria, Illinois. “Agriculture dust can explode in mere seconds when an ignition source is readily available. Dispersion of the dust particles can lead to rapid combustion known as deflagration. It causes explosions, worker injuries and extensive damage, as we saw in this case.”

Jackie Anderson, spokesperson for ADM, said, “Safety is our highest priority at ADM, and we are committed to learning and improving when an operational event occurs so that it does not happen again. We have cooperated fully with OSHA during their investigation of the incident at the West Plant elevator in April. We are reviewing OSHA’s concerns, and we look forward to discussing them further with the agency.”

OSHA cited ADM in April 2019 for not inspecting and testing critical safety systems after a Nov. 3, 2018, explosion at its East Campus caused extensive damage. As part of a formal settlement, the company agreed to conduct and document preventive maintenance on safety control equipment and to follow inspection procedures consistent with the manufacturer’s recommendations. 

On Jan. 4, 2019, an explosion and deflagration propagation event caused equipment and structural damage in the East Wet Milling Corn Plant and outdoor truck unloading bucket elevator legs. A detailed Hazard Alert Letter was issued to the company outlining concerns with the performance and documentation of equipment maintenance of explosion suppression and other systems. 

Employers are required to take necessary steps to eliminate grain explosion hazards by using proper dust collection systems and filters, good housekeeping, eliminating potential ignition sources and conducting testing and maintenance of safety systems designed to prevent these types of workplace incidents, OSHA said.

OSHA currently has an open inspection at ADM’s East Plant after another explosion and fire injured eight workers on Sept. 10, 2023. 

Additionally, OSHA issued citations to the company on Sept. 29, 2023, following its investigation of the April 11, 2023, death of a locomotive cab operator in a collision at ADM’s East Soy Plant. The agency cited a violation of the general duty clause after determining ADM had not ensured that crews positioned rail cars with sufficient clearance to prevent a collision. OSHA proposed $15,625 in penalties. 

ADM has 15 business days from receipt of the citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.